Editor’s Note: Mike Neff is out this week dealing with a personal situation, so in Full Throttle‘s place, we offer you a special sneak preview. Every Tuesday, our “fan expert” Sonya Grady graces us with her opinions and commentary on everything NASCAR; today, she gives her take on the Robby Gordon fiasco in a special column for the website.
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Robby, Robby, Robby, What went wrong during Saturday’s Busch race in Montreal? Does anybody know? I mean, save from Robby Gordon being kicked out of Sunday’s Nextel Cup Pocono race by NASCAR, of course. Was that called for? Well, let’s see what I can decide.
So, what exactly happened on Saturday? See, this is the first problem. Nobody really saw, I doubt even NASCAR got a look at what transpired between his No. 55 and Marcos Ambrose‘s No. 59. At the moment that the field was busy spinning into a pile of debris behind Robby and Marcos, Robby was putting the moves on the No. 59’s rear bumper. I swore Robby almost had Marcos’s rear end off the ground when the camera shot pulled away to focus on the melee behind them. The next thing we knew, the camera picks the pair up coming out of a turn, with the yellow flag flying and Marcos dumping Robby. As I indicated, Robby may have had that coming… we just never fully saw why.
What happens next? Robby sorts out which way is up and proceeds to speed back to the front, refusing to blend into the line of cars slowly pacing the course. He ran back up alongside the leader Ambrose and did a little grinding of the fenders… much to NASCAR’s chagrin. After two pace laps or so, he fell behind Marcos into second and rubbed his new best friend’s bumper all over again.
Now, to me that looked like Robby and Marcos had come to a slight disagreement over property rights, and Gordon was explaining the correct way to handle such a situation to the rookie in his usual inimitable manner. I could practically hear NASCAR race control hollering at Gordon to get himself under control, even across hundreds of miles. Memories of a certain helmet being tossed at Michael Waltrip crossed my mind, just one example of how Robby has never been known to demonstrate a cool head when the heat is on. And I was chuckling to myself, because I know how these things turn out when Robby is steaming… and so does most everyone else.
But NASCAR knew this, too, and it is at this moment that I think things all went pear-shaped. Marcos had been moved out of the way once… it was better than even money odds that Gordon would do it again. No doubt, further retaliation was coming as soon as the green flag dropped. Is that rough driving? It isn’t – until you add that whole racing back through the pack thing, making sure all the corners of your target are now nicely dinged while you wait for the restart. That’s exactly what Gordon had done – and the sport wasn’t ready for him to add to that resume.
To prevent any further shenanigans, NASCAR declared that Gordon was no longer in first place, or even second, and he needed to fall back to somewhere in the teens (the exact spot keeps changing with each report I hear). Their explanation? That Gordon did not maintain caution speed with the pack under yellow, meaning he was scored based on when his car got back in line after recovering from its unexpected spin… compliments of Mr. Ambrose.
“Huh?” said Robby. “No way!”
And so, the line was drawn. There are moments in baseball when the called strike is so far out of the zone that the pitcher, coach, first base coach, catcher, and possibly the right fielder are obligated to go belly to belly with the ump. This was one of those moments in NASCAR.
I admit, at that moment, to agreeing with him. The No. 55 was spun out after the caution flew. Ambrose did that; it was no fault of Gordon’s. If anything, Marcos may have been guilty of rough driving. So, unable to come to grips with NASCAR’s misled interpretation of their rulebook… Gordon popped his cork.
He refused to follow NASCAR’s directive. Why? Everybody knows that arguing with NASCAR after the race never results in a revision of the finishing order, purse money, points awarded, or an apology. Robby simply knew that if he had any hope of keeping the victory in sight, he had to dig in his heels. So, he did.
In turn, if there’s one thing that NASCAR really doesn’t like, it’s having a competitor who doesn’t follow orders. Was there smoke pouring out the windows of the control tower? Oh, yes. A small army of Busch officials crowded into Robby’s pit, ensuring the order to fall back into place was conveyed to the irate driver. If spit could fly through headphones, this would have been the moment for it to happen.
Gordon remained adamant. He was not in 13th or 14th place when the yellow flew. He was in front of Ambrose, leading the race and minding his rearview mirror. To make sure everybody on the planet understood his point, Robby restarted the race right behind the leader, receiving a black flag as he passed the flagstand. Before you could blink, the expected occurred. Robby dumped Ambrose and sped off into the sunset.
Meanwhile, up in the tower, the powers that be had enough. If there’s one basic tenet in this sport, it’s “NASCAR is in charge,” and Robby had just spit in their face. What else could they do? They pulled his scoring card and his NASCAR license. For all his on-course antics, Robby earned a day off in Nextel Cup for his troubles, possibly more depending on what gets announced tomorrow afternoon.
Was his suspension fair?
No. In this case, I truly believe that Robby’s track record as a short-tempered bruiser affected NASCAR’s decision-making process. Instead of perceiving the tussle between Gordon and Ambrose as a two-sided fight, they focused on the more experienced racer. In their mind, it had to be Robby’s fault; and he’s been told before to watch his Ps and Qs.
If NASCAR officials had stopped to consider the restart order with a cool head, instead of being drawn into the emotionally clouded judgment demonstrated so well on the track, they may have conceded that Gordon was not the one to suffer from the spin. The precedent is there; they’ve repositioned cars under caution in the past. Instead, they put on a fine display of insulted elder statesmen and closed their ears to any further pleas.
I never thought this day would come, but it has. I will probably never say this again… but Robby Gordon, you were done wrong.